When advisors at Securities America have a hiring dilemma, they turn to Kirk Hulett.
Kirk Hulett, senior vice president of strategy and practice management, is a key player at Securities America, not because of his extraordinary wit (although that helps), but because of his depth of human resources and practice management knowledge. I sat down with Hulett (author of 2007's Hiring to Grow: A Practical Handbook--How to Attract and Select Quality Talent and 2008's Managing for Performance: The Cycle of Success) to discover some of the lessons Securities America reps have learned from Hulett that still elude so many of their peers.
Drucker: Kirk, why--as the practice management "go-to" guy at Securities America--do you put such an emphasis on good hiring practices?
Hulett: Two reasons. First is the hard business reason, namely, that advisors must effectively manage their people in order to grow their practices. They need a strong staff in place, to leverage more clients, handle more referrals, and so on. So good hiring practices are a critical part of one's growth strategy. The other reason is more what I call "socio-emotional." In my experience, the biggest frustrations advisors deal with are personnel issues. Not having the right person for the job means problems like untimely work delivery or poor attitude, any of which can cause advisor angst, and yet can be minimized if hiring and people management are done correctly.
Drucker: So how does an advisor "qualify" a prospective hire? For example, do you recommend your reps conduct background checks?
Hulett: We definitely recommend background checks; in fact, one requirement of being a representative with Securities America is that associated persons must go through background checks. We consider it a "Best Practice" because, so many times an advisor will think she's hiring a strong person only to find out there are criminal issues in the person's past--or maybe fraud or felonious behavior or a made-up work history. It's happened on multiple occasions.
Drucker: How does the advisor do this?
Hulett: Advisors can use Google to find companies that conduct background checks, such as ChoicePoint. Prices differ based upon the level of review they do. One service may be checking more counties in former locations where the job candidate lived than another. But advisors should definitely use something if their broker-dealer or another third party doesn't already provide such a tool.
Drucker: Do you also recommend to your reps that they use tests like the Kolbe Index or Financial DNA's profiling system to asses the new hire's personality, skills and/or where they fit as a team player?
Hulett: We do recommend these services. A number of reps use Kolbe; that's most prevalent. As a broker-dealer, though, we offer the ProScan service, which we'll run for our advisors. We think it's an effective tool to help everyone in business understand the differences in work and communications styles among employees. It's been our experience that using these kinds of tools leads to better interactions among employees where they're more accepting of each other's idiosyncrasies.
Drucker: Can anyone use these assessment tools?
Hulett: They do require training to use and understand. When first using profiling systems, it's best to get interpretations of your results by a trained counselor. Deep insights come to the advisor after he's analyzed a number of profiles and begins to build an expertise in interpreting the patterns he sees. Most companies offering profiling systems also offer the services of an expert interpreter for an extra fee.
Drucker: Let's shift to the subject of interns. It's long been said that interns coming out of financial planning schools are not always being used to the best advantage of either themselves or their employer? Do you guide your reps in how best to deal with interns and other newcomers to our industry who they might hire as either summer workers or permanent employees?
Hulett: The first thing I tell advisors is, yes, use interns, but recognize it's a two way street. You're getting labor at a low cost but that's because these interns and industry newcomers need something from you: relevant experience in our industry. If you just want someone to photocopy and file, go to a temp agency. The intern needs to have an educational experience at a professional level. A little copying and filing is OK, but not for 100% of the intern's day.
Drucker: So how do advisors provide a professional education when most interns or newcomers don't yet have the skills to participate meaningfully in client work?
Hulett: There are lots of ways. The advisor can let the intern "shadow" him in client meetings. The advisor can let them participate in developing plans and financial recommendations. Also, they can use interns for those "special projects" they never seem to get around to doing, like developing a procedures manual, updating marketing materials, or organizing a client seminar. These kinds of projects are great for interns, although the employer still must manage the person and follow up on his work. What's important is to give the intern the opportunity to succeed or fail because that's the learning part of it, and it gives the advisors the opportunity to assess the intern's performance in a real job in case she might have a future role for that person in her firm. When you give the intern a great industry experience, that goodwill comes back to you.
Drucker: Another hiring challenge is that of the newer advisor trying to decide when and what type of employee to hire for the first time? What do you recommend in that instance?
Hulett: When a newer planner reaches the point where he's ready to hire his first employee, my advice is that the person needs to sit down and create a "stop-doing list" of all those tasks they're not good at or don't enjoy. These are the same tasks that take the advisor away from acquiring new clients and servicing existing clients. The stop-doing list then defines the type of job they need to hire for and the person who will be most qualified to do that job.
Drucker: I know Securities America provides a variety of consulting or coaching services do reps. I assume you do some one-on-one counseling as to hiring issues?
Hulett: I do have conversations about staffing, hiring, and employee management with our advisors, usually helping them develop hiring strategies. For example, we might discuss where it is they want to take their companies and what type of staffing plan will get them there. I might consult on how the advisor can better articulate his corporate vision to everyone on his team and have them execute that vision. Or, they might be more meat-and-potato issues like, "Do I have the right person in a particular job and, if not, how do I give them feedback?"
Drucker: I'm curious ... do you see a difference in how male and female advisors perform the human resources function?
Hulett: Not in hiring, but in managing, yes; male reps seem to be a little less patient. And they're typically more uncomfortable in situations where, as a manager, they must balance the emotional and task aspects of people management. In general, I see that communication is often more difficult for men. They think they never need to repeat instructions, for example, whereas when women reach a certain level of success, they're often stronger managers than men. They do better at the emotion/nurturing side of leadership.
Drucker: To wind things up, here's a catch-all question for you: what is the biggest hiring mistake you see?
Hulett: It's got to be "underhiring," or hiring a less-qualified candidate in order to save on compensation versus hiring the more qualified candidate who's demanding more money. In personnel, you get what you pay for.
Drucker: Before we run out of time, I understand you're working on your third book?
Hulett: It's called Focus on Managing and Performance, and it's a real-world guide to building strong manager habits for advisors, to get them communicating well, designing jobs that accentuate employees' strengths, minimize their weaknesses and contribute to getting things done. A companion piece to Hiring for Success, it's organized and written so as to apply to investment advisors and investment managers running their own businesses. [Readers can find Hulett's books at www.lulu.com or, if they are Securities America reps, then through their broker-dealer].
Drucker: Thanks for your time, Kirk. I believe this will be helpful to many advisors.